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False Positive Mammograms Tied To Slight Increase In Breast Cancer Risk

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A study found that women who received false-positive mammograms have higher chances of developing breast cancer in the subsequent 10 years. Among the 1.3 million female participants, women who had abnormal mammograms and were asked to take further breast imaging tests showed a 39 percent increase in cancer risk during the follow-up period.

The team analyzed over 2.2 million mammograms taken by nearly 1.3 million women. The mammograms were conducted between 1994 and 2009 on women whose ages ranged between 40 and 75 years old. A 10-year follow-up study was conducted to monitor their risk of developing breast cancer.

The breast cancer risk surged by 76 percent among the study subgroup who followed their false-positive mammograms with breast biopsies. The link is still unclear, but the slight increase suggests that false-positive mammograms should be added to the risk-prevention models of breast cancer.

"The higher risk of developing cancer among those with a false positive result with biopsy may be due to the fact that the radiologist sees an abnormal pattern that is not cancerous but is a radiographic marker associated with subsequent cancer," said study co-author Dr. Louise M. Henderson from the University of North Carolina (UNC) Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.  

In the study, women with extremely dense breasts and who received false-positive mammograms followed by biopsy recommendations had the highest risk. In the U.S., breast cancer is the leading cause of death among women. There are approximately 200,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer annually, with several diagnoses among men. Every year, about 40,000 die from the illness. This year, however, several health groups released dissimilar guidelines on breast cancer screening, leaving many doctors skeptical and most people confused.

The screening updated guidelines of the American Cancer Society (ACS) pushed back the ideal starting age for regular mammograms to 45 years old. On the other hand, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force suggests screening at 50 years old. There is also much debate on how often women should get screened. Despite the absence of a clear link, this finding suggests that false-positive mammograms should not be taken lightly, as women who get these "false alarms" may still be at risk for developing breast cancer.

The authors published their findings in the Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention journal on Dec. 2.

Photo: Nicoletta Ciunci | Flickr

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